Monday, January 3, 2011

Chelsea - A Full Blown Crisis

A couple of months back this blog wrote about the potential for problems at Chelsea with both an ageing and small squad and inadequate replacements. To say these worries have been born out would be an understatement as Chelsea have limped from bad to worse. Since beating the mighty MSK Zilina at the end of November, Chelsea's results read played seven (including Marseille in the Champions League), won one, drawn four and lost two, an utterly hideous sequence of results for a team that secured the double last Spring, it has become so bad they cannot even beat Arsenal anymore.

Chelsea's problems have become chronic and there is simply no cure other than Abramovich putting his hand in his pocket again, the irony being it has been his readiness to do so in the past on extending key players' contracts that has hamstrung Chelsea.

Even ass clubs across Europe struggle to balance the books before Monsieur Platini's financial fair play regulations come into effect, Chelsea have spent little money in the transfer market versus the teams they desire to see as their peers at the top of the European pile. They are however hemorrhaging cash on wages agreed at the height of the Premiership silly season on several players that are by now past their best namely Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Anelka. Other players such as Mikel and Ramires are simply not good enough.

There can be little arguement that players generally do not improve (goalkeepers aside) from the age of thirty years old yet Chelsea have continually improved contracts for players who will be well past that age by the time these contracts expire. It is impossible to offload these players as no one else can match the wages (nor would wish to even if they could). Despite offloading Ballack, Cole, Carvalho and others last Summer, Chelsea's wage bill remains stratospheric and there can be no denying that the value for money in return is diminishing rapidly.

Eighteen months ago, Chelsea could have named their price to Manchester City for John Terry. Forty million in the bank and another fifteen million saved in wages over two years, that could have bought almost an entirely new and youthful back four. The same goes for Drogba who Mourinho fresh at Internazionale would have gladly paid up for. These players have no resale value now and their wages are stopping Chelsea from acquiring the new talent that they so badly need, it is also stopping Chelsea being able to pay for the squad players that could give them a bench that could actually change a match. Hindsight is always 20:20 and no one can argue the value of these same players last season when Chelsea secured the double, but at what cost did that double come? Had those players been sold and the money reinvested, Chelsea could have seen themselves on a secure footing for years to come instead of facing crisis point with an ageing, creaking, small and overpaid squad.

Unfortunately, the damage is now done and cannot be repaired. Chelsea should be good enough to secure a Champions League place. The team is even still good enough - if they stay injury free - to go on the type of run to yet give ManYoo a fright but the writing is on the wall in the medium term. Unless Chelsea wish to face a period of mediocrity (which will be referred to as transition) which could last for several years then Roman is simply going to have to put his hand in his pocket and buy several new players.

The problem for fans such as myself or for anybody else for that matter is there is simply no read on what Mr Abramovich is thinking anymore. Chelsea always stated that they had a five year plan, that they wished to become self sufficient and the lack of generous investment may simply be testament to that promise. The other rumours circulating that he has fallen out of love with football and with the club cannot either be discounted nor acknowledged as the reclusive owner refuses to communicate in anyway with the fans or media. It may be coincidence but Ancelotti was famous for coaxing the best out of an elderly team at AC Milan so one has to wonder whether Abramovich always saw Chelsea arriving at this eventuality.

Even if the purse strings were to be loosened, there is no guarantee that the January window would provide the answers. The title has probably gone but Chelsea should be good enough to secure a Champions League place, so a January buying spree would serve little purpose it seems. It would be more prudent to identify fresh targets for the Summer and probably try to select players that Manchester City have no interest in.

Chelsea's transfer policy also needs to change drastically if they are to achieve success going forward. Chelsea need to identify good young talent that hasn't quite reached its' peak yet but is ready to contribute immediately, i.e. players in the 21-25 years old bracket. There are plenty of good young players out there such as the likes of Alex Pato, David Luiz and Jack Rodwell. These are just a few examples of players that would so badly inject some youth, hunger and not a little quality into a team that is increasingly looking on its' last legs. Chelsea's reaction to this crisis should be to back their proven coach with a short sharp burst of Summer transfer activity and a more prudent and forward thinking transfer and wages policy going forward.

Chelsea under Abramovich have enjoyed considerable success with only the Holy Grail of the Champions League (quite a major point admittedly) eluding their grasp. Champions League success looks farther away than ever now and in order to avoid the undoing of all that has gone before, the biting reality is that good money has to be thrown after bad. No Nonsense.